Writing content is all about deadlines, whether you’re a reporter, a blogger, or a marketer. Some might say the keys to meeting deadlines are a strict editorial calendar and discipline.
I say it’s flexibility.
Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? It’s all in how you look at it.
Deadlines are crucial to meeting expectations. Reporters have strict deadlines because no one wants to read day-old news. Bloggers have an obligation to produce content on a regular basis to keep their audiences engaged. And marketers must meet client expectations by producing their content in a timely manner to increase traffic, build links, or get conversions.
While we’ve adopted a journalistic style to our content production here at BlueGlass, we have quite an advantage over news reporters—we can set our own deadlines. This allows us to better meet them and, if necessary, miss them. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
How you manage deadlines can make or break your content production process.
This is where an editorial calendar comes in. Whatever way you decide to set it up, your editorial calendar should show you what content needs to be produced, by whom, and by when. You can also add other details, if you like, but those three things are essential, particularly when managing an editorial calendar for a content team as opposed to a single blogger.
In addition to those three basics, we include several other details in our editorial calendar, including which client the piece is for. This provides guidance for things like tone and content goals.
A quick search will reveal dozens of editorial calendar tools, but while I’m sure many of them are effective and probably have some pretty cool bells and whistles, we use a spreadsheet. Yup, just a plain ol’ spreadsheet.
It’s color-coded and organized into sections that correspond to each stage of content production:
- New content
- Content in progress, sorted by writer
- Content to be edited
- Content ready for fact-check and quality assurance
- Complete content
Every week, we start a new sheet, carrying over everything but the completed pieces.
It may not be fancy, but it allows us to see where every piece of content is in the process at any given moment of the day, week, and month. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best, but you have to find what works for you.
Now, about setting those deadlines. That’s an important column in our spreadsheet, and we just recently changed the way deadlines are set.
If a piece is due to a client by, say, November 2, our writing deadline is October 26. We give ourselves a week for edits, changes, and for those unforeseeable bumps in the road that can cause delays. If none of those things occur, and everything goes the way it should, it also allows us to potentially get content to our clients sooner than promised. And I don’t need to tell you how that goes over.
Working extra time into your production schedule gives you that flexibility you need. Setting internal deadlines too close to external ones will keep you in perpetual rush mode, and that’s how mistakes are made, and quality suffers.
Setting deadlines the way we do, you’d think we would never have trouble meeting them. Ah, if only that were true. Those little bumps in the road I mentioned? Yeah, they can sometimes be deadline-busters if you’re not—say it with me—flexible.
We try to build as much preparation as possible into our content production process, from ideation to vetting to approvals to actual creation. But sometimes things can still go wrong, no matter how prepared you try to be.
Google is often the bane of marketing writers’ existence. Just when you’ve written a brilliant post about how to recover from Penguin and walked someone through the process of addressing a penalty and filing a reconsideration request, Google launches a Disavow Links tool, and you’re back to the drawing board, incorporating the new information while your audience or the blog you promised the post to waits. Wait too long, and you’ll be rehashing what dozens of other writers said before you.
If you’re not ready to roll with the changes, you’re going to be left behind. Flexibility is what allows you to meet deadlines, even when circumstances beyond your control get in the way.
If you remember, I alluded a few paragraphs ago to missing deadlines sometimes being necessary. Heresy! you say. What kind of writer are you that you’d advocate missing deadlines?!
One who knows when to make sacrifices for quality.
I would much rather miss a deadline with a client than send them a substandard piece of content. We’ve taken steps at BlueGlass to prevent that from happening by putting several checks in place, which include editing, fact-checking, proofing, and approval before we show anything to a client.
But as we incorporate more and more journalistic tactics in our content production process, flexibility becomes even more important—as does the ability to know when to blow a deadline.
Newsrooms will sometimes have to miss their print deadline during important events. It may be something unexpected, like a natural disaster that requires adjusting headlines and updating stories. Or it can be planned events like elections, when the paper can’t be put to bed until the polling places are closed and the votes are counted.
Lately, we’ve been straddling the best of both worlds by experimenting with newsjacking. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s basically incorporating breaking news into your content—or your content into breaking news, depending on how you look at it—in an effort to capitalize on where the public’s attention is focused.
Election years are prime newsjacking ground. Think about all the articles and quickly produced images you’ve seen all over the Web lately—particularly on social media—that incorporated some new gaffe by one candidate or another. Then think about how many of those things you’ve retweeted, liked, and shared. That’s newsjacking.
And that’s why we sometimes miss deadlines.
If an opportunity like that comes along, it’s too good to pass up. The difference between a standard piece of content being published and shared, and a newsjacked piece going viral can mean the difference between a client site seeing a few hundred visits to a few thousand.
Now tell me you wouldn’t miss a standard deadline to produce that instead. I’m pretty sure your client would forgive you after seeing the result.
The point is, doing what it takes to give your clients the best service possible—or to deliver your audience the best content possible—sometimes means putting aside your process and deadlines, drawing on your team’s flexibility, and knocking one out of the park.
How do you manage content production deadlines? What do you do to go above and beyond for your clients or audience? Sound off in the comments!